'Short time frame' for public engagement a challenge as Olympic plebiscite nears

Calgary is set to host a plebiscite before the end of the year on whether or not to bid on the 2026 Olympics, and some councillors are concerned the time frame to engage the public before that vote is too tight.

Bid book submission is due in January

Coun. Evan Woolley says the timeline has shifted on public engagement for a potential Calgary 2026 Winter Olympic bid. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Calgary is set to host a plebiscite before the end of the year on whether or not to bid on the 2026 Olympics, and some councillors are concerned the time frame to engage the public before that vote is too tight.

"I think the time frame altogether is very challenging. Compressing that citizen engagement into a very short time frame should be of utmost concern," said Coun. Druh Farrell.

Council met with International Olympic Committee officials Tuesday. A council committee was provided with an update on the multi-party agreement negotiations and the plan for public engagement.

Originally, a program to inform and engage the public as well as seek input on a potential bid was set to begin in April, but that date was pushed back.

The IOC will invite interested host cities to bid in October, with the official bid book submission due in January.

Farrell said the reason council was given for the public engagement being pushed back was that "the scope" of the engagement had changed.

"I would have assumed we would have known that earlier and addressed it sooner, but that's the rationale we were given for why it's been pushed off so many months."

She also said council has been given mixed messages on whether or not public engagement would be productive in summer.

Calgary city councillors met with IOC officials on Tuesday. (City of Calgary)

Negotiators for the city, province and federal government are meeting weekly to discuss a multi-party agreement on how to pay for the 2026 Olympics, if Calgary chooses to bid and wins.

Coun. Evan Woolley said the city has an "off-ramp" in September if it can't reach a funding agreement with the different levels of government. 

"These are tough negotiations," said Woolley, who added that he wants to ensure the city gets the best possible deal.

The IOC has said it will commit $925 million US to the host city of the 2026 Games, but the organization hasn't ruled out the possibility of contributing more.

Woolley said he got the sense meeting with IOC officials that they've changed the candidature process to reduce the cost burden on potential host cities.

Portions of the Olympic discussions have been held behind closed doors, something some councillors are concerned about.

Couns. Jeromy Farkas, Sean Chu and Joe Magliocca intend to put forward a notice of motion on Monday to request that the Olympic bid corporation be subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

With files from Scott Dippel


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